Providence Hospital, a Catholic hospital located in Northeast Washington, D.C., was founded in 1861 by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. At Providence Hospital, with its commitment to community care in a first-rate facility, more babies of poor mothers have been delivered than at any other hospital in the area. As the hospital grew, the administration remained focused on its overall mission, but the stresses of the modern healthcare environment became increasingly evident. Concerns about staff retention, sicker patients, insurance limitations and other challenges became more and more prevalent.

In 2000 the administration felt the importance of developing a spiritual refuge — a place to find comfort, pray and begin healing. The Hospital Morale Initiative embraced the idea of a Healing Garden, to provide a retreat from the relentless rigors and stresses of medicine for all members of the hospital family. The Nature Sacred organization in Annapolis, Maryland, the Prince Charitable Trusts, and the Hospital Women’s Board all provided money or other support in order to make this new garden a reality. A site adjacent to the main entrance was selected.

With this very accessible location, however, the garden would be easily available for staff and families, even if they had only a few moments to spend there or were simply passing through. The design concept for the garden focused on creating a series of separate, restorative spaces that would be spiritually, if not physically, “away” from the stressful hospital environment, by providing a connection to growing plants, moving water and the changing seasons. Multiple pathways allow visitors to walk directly through the garden, or to choose narrow step stone paths that bypass the main walks. Both entrances lead to the central fountain area that is shielded from immediate view by stone walls. The idea was for all visitors to encounter an “unknown” and then discover a “refuge” that would provide a place of comfort.

A lawn area also provides a venue for planned activities, including lunchtime classes, concerts and Tai Chi demonstrations. Although highly public, the various garden areas and sensitively arranged seating provide abundant ways for people to use the garden privately. Family clusters, individual reflection or professional consultations can be accommodated with benches arranged so that they do not intrude on one another. Benches supplied by the Nature Sacred integrate journals into the seats, and visitors are free to write their thoughts in them. It is clear from these entries that people prize the privacy, solace and spiritual nourishment found in this comforting environment.

The Healing Garden evolved through a collaborative effort of design professionals, hospital administrators, and all levels of staff. From the earliest design meetings, we conferred with not only the leaders of the hospital, but the healthcare providers themselves, to create spaces that would support the caring environment Providence provides. In depth issues were discussed such as smoking in the garden (no), whether or not food would be allowed (yes), gates or no gates (no gates), who would use the garden (anyone), the kinds of plants to include, sounds in the garden and how it was to be maintained. In the end, a garden emerged that invites staff, visitors and patients to experience “Joy, Care, and Respect” in their daily activities and to renew their spirits for whatever joyfulness or challenges they face. These words are carved in stone within the Healing Garden at Providence Hospital.

The garden is fully accessible and open to the public. All are welcome to visit the garden to rest, meditate or simply enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.